The modern novel: is there a plot or just a conspiracy?

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DAVID Nicholson-Lord's blanket criticism of contemporary fiction ("Write me a novel I can actually read", 30 April) displays a myopic ignorance.

His stereotype of the "fat feminist" author is gratuitously offensive, while his objections to the claims of blurb on dust-jackets betray a barely credible navety. Has he never considered that publishers need to sell books? That blurb is more a commercial strategy than part of literary criticism?

The earliest printers were well aware of these issues. Title-pages of 16th-century books are weighed down with claims of the works' literary, moral or practical merit, no less inflated and market-oriented than today's dust-jackets. So much for "the distinguishing feature of contemporary fiction".

Likewise, the incestuous, self-contained institution of literature is far from being an invention of the 20th century. Medieval courts fostered an environment of just this kind, while Renaissance writers constantly quoted and corresponded with each other.

Mr Nicholson-Lord is clearly unable to extend his literary horizons beyond post-Romantic concepts of plot and character, genius and insight. His notions of what constitutes good fiction, like his unread classics, appear to be "inherited from generations of dusty scholastics". Before addressing the writing of Attwood, Amis and Winterson, let alone - yes, this is a plug - such exhilaratingly inventive and technically gifted authors as Christine Brooke-Rose, Robert Coover, Alasdair Gray and Thomas Pynchon, he should learn how to read.

Adrian Armstrong

Cambridge

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